SPL eyes artificial pitches to combat bad weather

Scottish league open to return of Astroturf following its use in Champions League
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The Independent Online

The Scottish Premier League has expressed an "open" mind about the return of artificial pitches to the competition after one of the harshest winters in living memory, in addition to causing a record number of postponements, has left many SPL pitches in a poor state, which will force clubs to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on remedial work this summer.

There has been a general opposition to artificial surfaces in Scotland since Dunfermline installed one seven years ago and were forced to tear it up after two seasons following a number of problems. But Tuesday night's Champions League quarter-final second leg between CSKA Moscow and Internazionale was played on the latest "fourth generation" artificial turf, and it is this the SPL may consider should it find favour with member clubs.

The SPL secretary, Ian Blair, said: "We are open to it as a possibility, but we would require a demonstration that it was going to be effective. We, as a league, are not promoting artificial surfaces, but there is a facility within our rules for a club to come forward and, subject to various criteria being met, it's certainly possible that it would be approved."

Blair admits the Dunfermline experiment meant many in Scotland are still against artificial surfaces. "I think we are still chastened by the experience of the Premier League with an artificial pitch," he said. "However, if it can be proven that the new surfaces are much better, then that would help with the consideration."

Meanwhile, the SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster yesterday revealed he had written to the Scottish Football Association urging a reform of its disciplinary appeals process.

Doncaster has formally followed up his statement from last weekend in which he expressed concern that match referees had the final say on whether or not appeals could proceed.

The Scottish Professional Footballers' Association wants a complete overhaul of the system.

That stance has been backed by Celtic and – yesterday – Heart of Midlothian, both of whom are aggrieved at their failure to overturn red cards for their players this season. Yesterday, Celtic fans threatened to boycott away matches in protest should the status quo prevail.

Doncaster said: "There are enough talented and experienced people around Scottish football to create an independent review panel. What is essential is that the referee himself is not part of that panel. We need to overhaul our current appeals system. We need to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done by creating an independent appeals body – and we need to do so now. I've put these views to the Scottish FA and I'm looking forward to working with them to make a positive change on behalf of our clubs."

He added: "How can you have an appeals process which is dependent upon the referee admitting he got it wrong in the first place? This was the question posed by [Rangers manager] Walter Smith earlier this year. Walter Smith is not alone in questioning why Scotland should be so out of step with what happens elsewhere in Europe."

Doncaster disputed SFA counterpart Gordon Smith's claim that removing the referee from the appeals process would contravene Fifa rules.

Citing the system used by the Football Association as a possible template, Doncaster added: "As in England, this could involve respected former players and managers. We can also make sure that these individuals are knowledgeable in the laws of the game and up to date with any developments on how to apply them."

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